When we think of the typical farm, we may picture cattle in one pasture, horses in another, and goats or sheep in a third. But a savvy farmer knows the benefits of either rotating pastures between species or even pasturing certain animals together.
In nature, species don’t live in an isolated bubble all by themselves. They interact and share their environment with many other animals. When left in balance, this is part of what creates a healthy ecosystem to begin with. When we mimic nature more closely, there are benefits to both our animals and our pastures.
Here are a few types of livestock which do well when pastured together and offer benefits to either one or both species.
Horses and Goats
Horses are notorious for leaving behind rougher patches of grass or weeds (especially around manure piles). When these uneaten plants go to seed, they can spread all over the pasture. Goats, however, are much less selective and will eat these rough, weedy patches, as well as brambles and other ‘undesirable’ plants in the horse pasture.
Aside from their ability to ‘clean up’ a pasture, goats can also make great companions for a lone horse. The only requirement is good fencing!
Cattle and Sheep
Grazing cattle with sheep is another popular option with benefits for both species. Since cattle are resistant to most sheep parasites and vice versa, grazing them in the same pasture can cut down on the parasite load for each species. This works because when sheep consume grass contaminated with cattle parasite eggs, the larvae cannot develop within the sheep’s digestive system. It’s basically a dead end of these parasites. The same happens for cattle eating grass contaminated with sheep manure.
If done appropriately, grazing these two species together can also help to improve the soil and vegetation. The key is to have a higher sheep to cow ratio and not to overgraze your pasture.
Large livestock and Chickens
Chickens can be very beneficial when housed with larger livestock for two reasons: parasite control and fertilizer. When chickens scratch through manure piles to eat bugs and remnants of grain, the manure is spread out which speeds the drying process. This has essentially the same effect as harrowing a pasture (only you’re not spreading the manure everywhere)—the parasite eggs are often killed in the process.
Another plus to having free-range chickens is that their manure makes great fertilizer for overgrazed fields.
Llamas and Goats
Llamas may not be the most popular type of farm animal, but they can make great livestock guardians, especially for smaller livestock such as goats who may fall prey to coyotes. In fact, a single llama can protect a herd of several hundred goats. Another great thing about llamas is that they are social animals by nature and tend to adapt well to other animals.
Things to Consider with Multi-Species Grazing
Though there are many benefits to multi-species grazing, there are a few things to keep in mind. One, is that overgrazing pastures is never healthy for plant or animal species. Make sure the number of animals is appropriate for the allotted space. Also, certain diseases can be spread from one species to another (zoonotic diseases), so make sure you’re aware of any diseases which may affect your animals and help to protect or treat them accordingly.